Is Your Loved One Treating Anxiety with Alcohol or Drugs?

Those who struggle with anxiety face a great deal of pressure just trying to do ordinary things. They may struggle to drive with confidence, worry about food poisoning when all they want is a meal at a restaurant, and spend too much of their lives fearing things that are very unlikely. Anxiety can be quite terrifying. Many who start to manage or try to lower the impact of their anxiety symptoms with alcohol or drugs actually find some relief in the early stages.

However, the anxious brain can often start to second guess itself. Someone with social anxiety, for example, could feel bolder with alcohol in their system. Unfortunately, this courage may lead them to be much braver than they would ordinarily be, then suffer regrets and worries when thinking back on their behavior. This upset could then lead to drug or alcohol use to overcome the upset of thinking they embarrassed themselves.

Anxiety: A Dangerous Spiral

Anxious thought patterns can turn into a dangerous spiral. You may start out worrying about what one person thinks of you, then start to feel rejected by a peer group, then fear ostracization by everyone you know. These layers of anxious thoughts can impact every aspect of your life; you can start out avoiding an accident where you once had a fender bender, then start to avoid left turns, and finally fear driving at all. Anxiety can take your pleasure away from the simple daily acts of living. You may fear that some danger is coming, that people reject you or that ordinary activities have extra dangers lurking that only you can see. If your loved one struggles to get out into the world or seems especially fearful of basic activities, get them to help to manage their anxieties before they turn to drugs and alcohol to control the symptoms.

Why Alcohol and Drugs Reduce Anxiety

Early on, drugs and alcohol can actually mask or reduce feelings of anxiety. However, long-term drugs and alcohol can lead to much more intense feelings of anxiety. For those who have mild anxiety, drugs and alcohol can make it much worse. The amygdala is the area of the brain that is connected to

  • negative emotions
  • an intensely negative reaction to stress, such as fight or flight
  • panic under stress

Alcohol can change the shape, size, and function of the amygdala. If you see your loved one reaching for alcohol when their stress triggers hit, when their anxiety is running high, or when they’re headed into a new setting, it’s time to have a talk about the risks of alcohol and anxiety. Other factors that can impact the fluctuations of an anxious response are tobacco and caffeine. If your loved one claims that they “only smoke when they drink” they could actually be increasing their risk for a dangerous anxiety response. Alcohol depresses the response while tobacco agitates the risk; a dangerous combination.

Better Ways to Manage the Condition

Many of the activities that make detox and treatment more bearable can do a lot to help manage anxiety. Simple self-care activities, from walking and other gentle forms of exercise to preparing and eating healthy food, can go a long way toward reducing the intensity of detox pain and the stress of anxious thoughts. Anxiety isn’t just about being nervous. The real danger in managing anxiety with alcohol in particular is that alcohol is a depressant. If your loved one is managing their anxiety with alcohol, they may be suppressing joyful emotions as well. Over time, this smothering of the negative can completely wipe out positive experiences and feelings, leading to depression.

Depression can be fatal. Quality detox may lead to a terrible bloom of anxious thoughts. Your loved one should never be alone or undergo an unsupervised alcohol detox; this can be incredibly hard on the body and may put them in extreme physical danger. A person in the throes of the pain of detox and the anguish of an anxiety bloom may also say and do things that are designed to hurt those around them; this experience can damage close relationships.

There are skilled professionals who know the best way to protect your loved one from the worst aspects of detox. Monitoring is key to a safe detox and a healthy move into treatment. We can help, call now 772-266-5320.

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